What is Influenza?

Influenza, or the flu, is an infection caused by the influenza virus. Influenza occurs mainly during the winter months but can be around during other times in the year.

Symptoms of Influenza

Influenza in children can be like a bad cold. However, if your child is very young or has a chronic medical condition (such as those listed below) the illness can be much more serious.

Some of the common symptoms of influenza include:

  • aches and pains
  • headache
  • cough or noisy breathing
  • sore throat and runny nose
  • low energy
  • nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea

Spread of Influenza

Influenza is very infectious and can be spread through the air from coughing and sneezing.

Influenza can also be spread by contact with objects that have been in contact with saliva or mucous from a person infected with the virus.

Some things you can do to reduce the spread of influenza include:

  • Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Not sharing food, cups of cutlery.
  • Coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue – and encouraging children to do the same!
  • Use tissues instead of hankies -and ensure you throw them straight in the bin after use.

Caring for Your Child with Influenza

Most children will recover from influenza within seven days without any treatment. You should make sure you child is:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking lots of fluids
  • Given paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain
  • Kept at home from childcare, kinder or school

When to Seek Medical Help

You should see a GP if you think your child has influenza, as they may want to do a swab test to confirm the diagnosis.

If your child has a chronic medical condition, you should take them to see a GP as soon as they become unwell.

If your child is otherwise healthy, you should take them to a GP or hospital emergency department urgently if they become more unwell, show any signs of dehydration or are having difficulty breathing.

Influenza Statistics in Australia

As of 1st October 2019, there have been a total of 292,991 laboratory confirmed cases of Influenza in Australia in 2019. This number is over 10 times higher than the same time in 2018. Victoria alone has had 62,286 cases of influenza in 2019.

For healthy children under the age of 5 years, of all vaccine preventable diseases, influenza is the leading cause of hospitalisation.

Adults have a 10-30% chance of contracting influenza each flu season. For children the likelihood of contracting influenza is between 20-50%, and up to 70% when there is a pandemic.

Influenza Vaccine Recommendations

The Australian Immunisation Guidelines recommend the influenza vaccination for all people ≥6 months of age who wish to protect themselves against influenza.

People who are at a higher risk of complications from influenza are strongly recommended to receive the vaccine. This includes conditions such as:

  • Heart conditions e.g. cyanotic congenital heart disease
  • Chronic respiratory conditions
    • suppurative lung disease
    • bronchiectasis
    • cystic fibrosis
    • asthma
  • Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes
  • Chronic renal failure/ kidney problems
  • Impaired immunity of any cause, including medical conditions requiring ongoing treatment with oral steroids
  • Down syndrome
  • Chronic neurological conditions
    • multiple sclerosis
    • spinal cord injuries
    • seizure disorders
  • Children on long-term aspirin therapy
  • Preterm infants (born at <37 weeks gestation)

Pregnancy & Influenza Vaccine

Pregnant women, at any stage during their pregnancy, are recommended to have the flu vaccine. Influenza during pregnancy puts women at a higher risk of severe complications from influenza and can lead to delivering a preterm baby.

Receiving the flu vaccine during pregnancy also protects the baby from influenza during their first few weeks of life. This is due to transplacental transfer of high-titre influenza-specific antibodies.

Influenza Vaccine Administration Schedule

For children between 6 months to <9 years of age, who are receiving the vaccine for the first time, the recommendation is to have 2 doses at least 4 weeks apart.

A few things to note about this recommendation:

  • This is only for children receiving the vaccine for the first time. In subsequent years, the child will only need one dose of the vaccine.
  • The recommendation is for a minimum of 4 weeks between doses. This can be a longer interval if your child is unwell or you are unable to attend for any other reason.

The 2-dose schedule is also recommended for people of any age receiving influenza vaccine for the first time after haematopoietic stem cell or solid organ transplant.

Egg Allergy & Influenza Vaccine

People with egg allergy, the influenza vaccine can still be safely administered.

If an egg allergy is uncertain (e.g. positive skin test, but not yet eaten egg) or for those with a non-anaphylaxis egg allergy, the vaccine can be given in any immunisation setting (i.e. council immunisation clinic, local GP or workplace/school immunisation visit).

Those with a true anaphylaxis egg allergy, the influenza vaccine can still be given, but they are recommended to attend a specialist vaccine clinic or hospital for administration.